After almost a thousand years of trying it out, I think it’s safe to say that the book as a way of publishing things is a success. Yet all the things that make books work are being abandoned in the latest tool to make ebooks.
A “book” still means something made out of paper-like material; the word origin refers to a slab of beechwood or (in the case of the latin word codex), bound leaves of some kind. The idea of printing being involved is not at the core of what a book is, and to have the object is to have access to the knowledge there. Ebooks are any kind of publication produced for electronic reading; again, what produced the content is not at the core of what an ebook is.
So what is basic to being booklike? I’d suggest it’s two things: some kind of package for publishing, and one that belongs to the reader. A book and an ebook are more alike than they are different from this perspective, and it’s a recent development that they have diverged. Because of the success of Amazon and other companies in creating closed systems for people to buy and read ebooks, suddenly the idea of a book is contingent on a particular company giving a key to a locked box, etc.
And now, Apple’s new iBooks Author program requires publishing a book in one proprietary format and for sale on one store, in such a way that can only be read on one kind of device. A truly faustian bargain.
The marketing for iBooks Author says it “allows anyone to create …just about any kind of book for iPad,” but given that what it actually makes is very far from the actual definition of a book (or even an ebook for that matter), I don’t think it’s accurate to say that. It’s something, maybe more like an old-school CD-ROM. It’s just not a book.